Beijing, May 31: The acting leader of Asian football said FIFA had no right to suspend Mohamed bin Hammam from his role as head of the Asian Football Confederation, a Chinese newspaper reported Tuesday.
China's Zhang Jilong was installed as the AFC's interim president while bin Hammam is suspended from all football duties pending the outcome of an investigation into allegations he offered bribes in return for votes in his now-abandoned bid for the FIFA presidency.
"FIFA suspended bin Hammam but he is still the president of AFC," Zhang was quoted as saying by the China Daily, citing quotes from the Chinese news website Sina.com. "FIFA has no right to prevent him from acting his role in AFC."
The quote was removed from Sina.com's news article later Tuesday.
Despite Zhang's remarks, the AFC confirmed in a statement that he would act as its president during bin Hammam's suspension.
Zhang, 59, is the AFC's most senior vice president. He ran for a seat on FIFA's executive committee earlier this year, but lost out in a vote at January's AFC congress in Doha. He also served on the 2008 Beijing Olympics organizing committee.
Chinese media have in the past given him the names of "Hand of God" and "Brother Dragon" for allegedly convincing FIFA to change its rules for the 2002 World Cup qualifiers for the Asian zone, effectively putting China in an easier qualifying group.
In a report on the state-run China Youth Daily website from 2007, Zhang is quoted as saying that his lobbying meant China did not have to play Asian group powerhouses Iran and Saudi Arabia. China went on to qualify for the 2002 tournament -- its only World Cup appearance to date.
"You could say the Chinese team had good luck, but I think this is the victory of football diplomacy," the report quoted Zhang as saying. "FIFA did not expect the AFC to be opinionated."
Meanwhile, FIFA's 208 member nations are due to vote on the presidency on Wednesday, even though incumbent Sepp Blatter is now the only candidate.
FIFA vice president Michel Platini has raised the prospect of a walkout by Asian members in protest at bin Hammam's treatment, although the Qatari is far from universally popular within Asian football, only being re-elected to the AFC's top job by the slimmest possible margin earlier this year. AP